August 22, 2022
Center for the American Dream
Education As A Civil Rights Issue Of Our Time
August 22, 2022
Well thank you for the warm introduction and thank you for the warm welcome to ALEC today, where I am grateful for this opportunity to come together and discuss some of the most pressing issues facing our Nation.
No issue is more important than education, which has recently been thrust into the national spotlight. More and more parents are becoming aware of the realities of what is going on in our Nation’s schools, where children are taught vulgar gender ideologies, hateful racial theories, and a general disrespect for our very nation.
But we have to remember that things weren’t always this way. As a nation founded upon the ideals of freedom, equality, and self-governance, our Founding Fathers recognized that public education and a well-formed citizenry were necessities for a long-lasting republic. In contrast, subjects of an authoritarian government do not need to know how to read or write—all they need to do is obey.
However, when a nation is founded on the principles of self-government, it only stands to reason that those citizens must be properly educated so they may know how to effectively govern themselves.
Noah Webster, who is commonly referred to as the Father of American Scholarship and Education, said that “systems of education should be adopted and pursued which may not only diffuse a knowledge of the sciences but may implant in the minds of the American youth the principles of virtue and of liberty and inspire them with just and liberal ideas of government and with an inviolable attachment to their own country.” In his mind, a well-rounded education prepared children to become well-formed citizens who understood the principles of their country’s government, and who were therefore well-equipped to lead that Nation into the future.
Unfortunately, we have abandoned that formula in America today. Education officials now place more emphasis on left-wing agendas such as equity and social justice than on quality education and equality. Many American parents naively assumed that regardless of political fights, their children should be off limits—but the onset of COVID-19 changed everything. When schools sent children home for “remote learning,” parents were given a wake-up call when they saw their children’s assignments and overheard their classes.
The radical left has divided this Nation by promoting Marxist ideologies such as Critical Race Theory. This theory teaches innocent children that they are either an oppressor or oppressed based on the color of their skin and that our Nation’s history is one of nothing but hatred and oppression. And it doesn’t stop there. The left is now sexualizing our children by teaching content that is inappropriate for their innocent minds and encouraging them to explore their sexual identity, all under the disguise of inclusiveness and equity.
Of course, parents don’t want this nonsense in schools any more than we do. In fact, approximately three out of four parents do not believe that our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false and that American history should be reframed. 80 percent oppose using classrooms to promote political agendas, and nearly 70 percent oppose schools teaching that America was founded on racism.
Many education officials, school board members, and unions recognize that parents have these concerns, and that is why they have done all they can to hide this agenda. They have done so by using code words such as “social and emotional learning,” “equity,” “action civics,” and other phrases to conceal their true intentions for our children.
Meanwhile, our schools continue to decline, and our children continue to struggle—particularly minority children. For example, in Baltimore—a city with 90 percent minority enrollment—only 15 percent of students tested as “proficient” for reading. For math, that number drops to 8 percent. All in all, approximately 41 percent of Baltimore’s 20,500 public high school students earned below a 1.0 grade point average. This means that almost half of all Baltimore public school students average worse than a D average. Sadly, many of these dismal trends have only been accelerated by the pandemic and the transition to “remote learning.”
In an effort to push a radical agenda on our children, the left has ignored the data and evidence that our schools are failing our children. Many students, particularly in our underserved communities, continue to fall behind—all while the left claims to stand up for “minorities.”
The problems with public schooling are both abundant and apparent—so that begs the question to all of us: what do we do about it?
We need an honest teaching of history in our schools, not a political agenda set by education officials. Honest teaching means telling the true story of America and our founding. It does not mean leaving out the bad moments in our history—it simply means teaching the good, the bad, and the ugly, but most importantly sharing how this Nation has always prevailed and strived to live up to our founding ideal of equality.
As Daniel Webster pointed out, it is vitally important that our children learn the truth about our founding documents, what they mean, and how to live up to them. As a Nation, we need to inspire our youth to greatness and empower them to lead us into the future, not shame them for the actions of their ancestors or doom them to failure based on the color of their skin.
I think a lot of the folks in this room probably already agree with that, so the next question becomes: how do we get there?
For starters, all of us in this room who are leaders of your states can protect our children and work to promote policies that ensure that no child in public school is compelled to express belief in, or support for, a revisionist history of America’s founding. We also must protect parents’ rights to know what their children are learning and give them a voice in deciding what is best for their children through curriculum transparency and accountability. At the end of the day, God commissioned parents to be the guardians of their children—not the government.
Another avenue for reform is educator certification standards, primarily at the state level. Reformed standards should emphasize the fact that courses that direct students to express support for historical revisionism should not be approved as counting toward educator certifications.
One other major avenue for reform that is also overlooked is driving participation in local school board elections. Across the country are approximately 100,000 elected school board members. They make up the largest group of elected officials in the Nation, but school board elections consistently have one of the smallest voter turnouts. This has allowed special interest groups and unions to have an outsized influence on our education system, all at the expense of parents.
One potential solution is to move school board elections to on-cycle. As all the elected officials here are well-aware, the top of the ticket is crucial for turnout for the rest of the ballot. Data shows that moving school board elections from off-cycle to on-cycle years would not only make it easier to vote and raise voter participation, but it would also increase government accountability, save taxpayer dollars, reduce the power of special interest groups, and elect candidates who better represent their constituents’ demographics and policy preferences.
Of course, no discussion of fixing our education system would be complete without mentioning some of conservatism’s most successful solutions to our failing schools: namely, school choice and access to charter schools.
We agree that every student deserves access to a quality education that provides the knowledge and skills necessary for a successful career and fulfilling life. But many children in America are still assigned to schools that do not meet their individual needs, and many parents are limited in their ability to move to a new community for a different school. Parental school choice allows families to take education dollars for their children to an approved education provider of their choice—including traditional public schools, public charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling. Parents can also access private school choice through tax credit scholarship programs, vouchers, education savings accounts, and individual tax credits.
And studies show that school choice isn’t just a good theory; it works in action, too. Students who live in states that offer more school choice options have consistently higher test scores, as well as improvement in their overall scores. They are also more likely to complete school, and some studies even suggest school choice and charter schools lead to an increase in overall earnings.
School choice is popular, too. Overall, 69 percent of parents say they support school choice. That number is even higher with Black parents, at 73 percent, and Hispanic parents, at 72 percent of the total.
ZIP codes and backgrounds should not determine a child’s future, and scaling up choice in education across the Nation can increase competition among providers, reduce opportunity gaps for our more vulnerable students, and improve the quality of education for all children.
As Frederick Douglass so eloquently said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
Tragically, our schools are failing with even this simplest of tasks. Our traditional philosophy of education said that schools exist to inculcate the virtues needed for a self-governing people to flourish. Schools used to teach us to embrace our history, love our country, and prepare to carry the torch forward. This approach to education catapulted our country to the status of the world’s preeminent superpower; it settled the West, invented the polio vaccine, and put a man on the moon. To this day, despite our flaws, America’s founding principles remain a beacon of hope for oppressed people around the world.
We are the one-blood human race, and what we have in common far outweighs our differences. My uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., once said that “the function of education is to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character,” he said, is “the true goal of education.”
We’ve recently abandoned this formula, but there’s no reason we can’t win it back. By championing the sort of policies that increase transparency, empower parents, promote school choice, and instill a love of country, we can someday have a Nation that puts all of our children first and embraces human dignity—from the womb to the tomb.
Thank you, and God bless.